Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Bourke and Beyond


After a year's wait we finally escaped for another inland bird bash.   Brown trousers, bins, scope and new sleeping bag and thermaRest at the ready.  Bird on! In past outings we've trundled round bits of South Australia, but this time decided not to sail quite so far west but steer a northerly trajectory, via Bourke, into central Queensland and Carnarvon Gorge, before tending to the coast and home.

We popped over the chilly Bluies, still adorned with slush from the day before, and bunkered down in Mudgee.  The standard pie and coffee breakfast was followed by an outing at the nearby Pucca Bucca wetlands.  Despite an absence of finches, we picked up the delightful Crested Shrike Tit, which we'd not seen in about 4 years.  With eyes ever on the clock we bundled back into the car for the long northerly haul to Gulargambone (love that name) and the eastern entrance to the Macquarie Marshes, which are looking pretty dry despite decent rainfall over the last few weeks.  Some good ticks at the Monkeygar Crossing, then on to Willie Retreat.  

We stayed at Willie some years ago, and it's good to see its custodian, Myra, still bubbling and well, as were Patrick the pig ("he eats all day"), and Tiny Tim (see attached poem).  Myra provided a few logs for the fire (it was chilly), switched on the hot water and bid us good eve.

We had a great morning listening to the sounds of the western bush.  Morning highlights included the resident Spotted Bowerbird and a Superb Parrot fly-by.  Unfortunately, we had to keep moving so by late morning were back into the car and travelling at warp speed, first to Bourke, then over the border into QLD.   Crossing the border one crosses both a cartological and architectural divide; all dwellings were now magically propped up on stilts.  Large straights were traversed in a zig-zag manner, with road kill to be dodged literally every 100 meters.  Good reason to make haste and not be caught out after dark.  The only other vehicles out there seemed to be; the intermittent migrating Greynomadus campervanus, 4WDs adorned with mining logos, or the odd 3-segment road train.  Birding highlight was probably a flock of Major Mitchell's Cockatoos feeding roadside; a pink-rainbow-crested version of the Sulfur-Crested, and one you’ll not find anywhere near Sydney.

We were aiming for a particular property, Bowra Station, now a reserve managed by Australian Wildlife Conservancy, and renowned for inland rarities.  Accommodation was one of several rooms in the former shearers quarters, now all occupied by migratory birders. Mostly retired or semi-retired, good-natured jolly folk, sometimes with less enthusiastic partners in tow, and generally toting cameras and lenses substantially more impressive than my kit.  But sometimes luck is just as important; we'd barely arrived and cracked a beer by the bore-drain lake when a flock of Major Mitchell's settled into a tree in front of us.  A rainbow briefly backlit the scene.  Magic.  In an instant it was over, but I'd been the lucky Johnny-on-the-spot.

At 6 pm every evening a gathering occurs in the shearers quarters where the property managers host a roll call of all species seen on the property that day.  Great for getting a feel of what was there and where one might go looking for them.  Following the roll-call, meals are cooked and consumed, and discussion continues centric to the hobby we all share.  The adjacent thermal bore shower has to be up there with the best.  Hot water on tap 24/7 and with loads of pressure behind it.  A-grade.

We stayed 2 nights at Bowra, and despite not ticking any mega rarities the property is renowned for (there’s that luck element swinging the other way), we did get great looks at Bourke's parrot (which we didn't see in Bourke).  Bourke’s Parrot was a new tick for both of us.  Given the number of times I’ve gone inland and not seen it, I think it was probably bird of the trip for me.  And GK was right; it hadn't occurred to either of us but the parrot carries the name of a former Governor of NSW; no connection to Burke and Wills.  

We bid Bowra farewell and headed north on another long transit towards Carnarvon Gorge, overnighting in Mitchell, which had a great small bird boil up in the camping ground.  Carnarvon is like a Jurasic version of the Blue Mountains, plonked in south west QLD, with tree palms replacing tree ferns in the gullies.  

We expected that any new ticks we'd get would be found on Bowra, but this turned out not to be the case.  We were now far enough north (similar latitude to Frazer island), to pick up birds with typically more northerly ranges.  On our third morning at Carnarvon we finally tracked down the owner of the crack-of-dawn chorus belter; hello White Throated Honeyeater!  Other highlights included the almost deafening cacophony of Rainbow Lorikeets and Noisy Friarbirds, which dominate the Carnarvon birdscape, and the Platypuses (appropriately; Ornithorhynchus anatinus) which were viewed in the stream next to camp each morning.  I’m guessing Carnarvon is about as dead-cert for platypus as it gets!

After a combined 30 km of walking it was time to give weary feet a break and head eastward.  We next dropped anchor at the smaller Cania Gorge, where I finally matched call to delicate pink breast and calculated the answer to be my first proper view of Rose Robin.  Unfortunately, both my camera and Anita missed the moment, and we didn't happen upon another chance this trip.  However, we both nailed Forest Kingfisher (another new one) before departing.

We next drifted towards the coast in the form of Inskip Point; the sandy gateway to Frazer Island itself.   Highlight of the transit were a posse of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos feeding by the road in no place particular – another new tick for both of us (Anita’s bird of the trip).  Naturally enough, the bird we were aiming to tick (Black Breasted Button Quail) failed to show at Inskip.  But we've become so used to dipping on signature species we are no longer disappointed. Still, we were now adding coastal species to the trip list, which was now coasting past 150 species.  And it's always nice to have the ocean wafting through ones nostrils.  

Later the following day we found ourselves dropping in on Anita’s parents in lovely Coolum, who kindly spoiled us rotten for three days and nights.  Aside from mostly relaxing, we managed some lovely walks and even managed another new tick in the form of Collared Kingfisher at the Maroochy Wetlands.  Sometimes time moves fastest when you are doing nothing much at all, and before we knew it we had to bundle back into the car for an express trip back to Sydney over two days via the New England Hwy and Thunderbolts Way.  With a day to travel the trip list stood at 190 species, and despite a couple of rainforest stops in the Barrington area, we only added 3 by the time we rolled back into Busaco Rd – weary from travel but a little bit PO’d that two weeks had gone just like that (I snap my fingers).  Really looking forward to this retirement thing!

Spotted Bowerbird's bower, complete with vertebrae and 303 shells